What a difference a year makes….

outreach workerSeptember 27, 2013 was a very special day for Eva: it was the day she moved off of the streets into her own place. It was a small room, but it was hers. And it was the first time in years that she had a place to call her own.

Eva left home in her early teens. Eventually, she became homeless and addicted to drugs. As a young woman on the streets, she was quite vulnerable. But she learned how to take care of herself and when I met her on outreach several years ago, I quickly discovered that she was one of the strongest young women I had ever met. Despite having to be in “survival mode” on the streets, she still had a loving and generous spirit.  She would often point out others who needed help, or tell me places to go where she knew I would find more people needing outreach. She often joked that she should do outreach, because she knew how to find people.

I soon learned that Eva was artist, and in fact, she was one of the first youth to join the art group. One time at art group I remember talking with her about her future, about getting sober and going back to school. She told me that she would never stop using drugs. When I asked why, she told me that last time she tried to get sober she became suicidal. Using drugs was her way of coping, and she was scared to take away that coping mechanism.

But a year ago something changed. She started making small changes in her life, which led to big changes like stopping her drug use, reconnecting with friends and family, and starting to think more about her future and what it could be.

This September marked some big landmarks for her: not only did she celebrate one year of living in her apartment, but she also re-enrolled in high school for the first time in years.

September 25th marked another incredible moment: it was her first night doing outreach as an OIM volunteer. Together, Eva and I walked the streets of Ottawa handing out sandwiches, socks and drinks. Most of the people we met on the street had to look twice at Eva, often saying “Hey it’s you!” or “I knew you looked familiar!” before congratulating her on becoming an outreach volunteer.

They were so proud of her.

And we are too.

I’m so excited to see what the future holds for Eva.

Her new outlook on her future? She plans on becoming an addictions worker.

The Hidden Homeless

 hidden homeless

Hidden Homeless: People who are temporarily crashing with friends, relatives or others because they have no where else to go.

I have been doing outreach several times each week for nearly three years. So, I’m familiar with most of the youth downtown. If I don’t know them by name, I at least recognize their faces.

Last week at art group, I saw a new face. His name was Patrick, and he said he was 17 years old. Why haven’t I seen him before? I wondered.

He told me that he’s been homeless for about 6 months now. He grew up in Kanata, in the suburbs, but he can’t go home…he wouldn’t say why. He tried the shelters, but they scared him. So he was “couch hopping”, crashing anywhere he could.

Patrick is considered one of Ottawa’s “hidden homeless”. He is not who most people think of when they think of the homeless: i.e., a man sleeping on a park bench. Instead, he looks like your average teenager who blends in with the crowd.

After just a few years of doing outreach, I have seen a change on the streets of Ottawa: there are less youth sleeping in plain sight on the streets. While this may seem like a positive thing, it’s not. Youth tell me that over the last several years, the city has made it more difficult for them to sleep outside. So, they are forced to “couch hop” (sleep on friends floors or couches). Not only can this be dangerous (many youth are victimized when couch hopping), it also makes it harder for support services and outreach workers to find them.

How do we help these youth if we can’t find them?

When I asked Patrick how he learned about the art group, he told me that he heard about it from other youth. He made the effort to seek out support. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of Ottawa’s hidden homeless youth are out there, hoping that someone will help them.

“We therefore cautiously estimate that there are 3 people who can be considered ‘hidden homeless’ for every one who is in an emergency shelter and/or is unsheltered…..As many as 50,000 Canadians may be ‘hidden homeless’ on any given night”

–          The State of Homelessness in Canada 2013, Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness

Housing in Ottawa: What we don’t see…

When Laura arrived at art group, she was excited to share her good news–she got her own apartment!

After a year or so of couch hopping, she finally had her own space. It was a small room in a rooming house, but she didn’t mind. She was just excited to have a space to call her own.

housing 2This excitement faded quickly the day she moved in when she saw that the repairs the landlord had promised to do before she moved in had not been completed….or even started. In fact, the room had not even been cleaned. She took pictures of her room on the day she moved in, and I was horrified by what I saw: holes in the wall, garbage and dirt on the floor, a hole where there should be a door handle, tape holding the door together….Certainly not a place where anyone would feel SAFE. 

housing1

But the worst was yet to come…..bed bugs.

bed bugs

Laura arrived at art group with welts all over her body. She says her room and mattress are completely infested with bed bugs and the constant biting makes it hard to sleep.

This is the reality of housing in Ottawa. There is just simply not enough affordable housing in this city. And youth like Laura are forced to take what they can get.

How do we expect these youth to thrive when they do not even have somewhere safe to sleep?

 

 

 

 

 

The beautiful thing about Laura, is that she continues to look at her future optimistically. She is not letting this experience hold her back.

Check out the beautiful painting she was working on last night.

IMG_8871

I’m constantly amazed by the strength and the resilience youth like Laura show.

 

 

New Perspective on Home

I attend St. Albans Anglican Church in downtown Ottawa. We are lucky to have space in the midst of both the Market, nearby Centretown, and Sandy Hill. We feel as though we are surrounded by busy city life, with event constantly taking place and people coming and going.

It also means our church body lives with neighbours experiencing poverty and homelessness, in fact our church body, itself, has members who find themselves living in shelters or on the streets. It is a stark reality of urban life, and one our congregational is learning to navigate with sensitivity and compassion. It certainly helps that Centre 454, a social service, is located in the lower half of our church building. The folks who work and volunteer there are the same as those you would encounter at OIM–deeply caring and passionate people.

Though we have the pleasure of housing Centre 454 and partnering with them in their ministry, it can be difficult to know how to incorporate our church’s youth into this part of our life together. We have a small but energetic group and as leaders who see Jesus’ strong dedication to social justice we know it is essential to be able to invite our young men, women and children into experiences that can foster understanding.

As a staff member at OIM I knew about our One Homeless Night program, which invites youth to walk for a night in the shoes of one of their peers experiencing homelessness. Though our size did not lend itself to this activity we truly wanted our youth to experience the lessons and principles that this activity offer.

We invited OIM’s Youth Outreach Worker to join us for an evening of discussion, and walk of ‘new perspective’. We traveled around our own neighbourhood, of Sandy Hill, in the rain, trying to see with new insight the individuals and stories of our very own street community. Some of the stories were difficult, and our youth struggled to understand, but more often than not they rose to the occasion with questions and concern. It was unbelievably valuable experience, and one we brought to a close by packing gifts for the Passion 4 Youth participants and, of course, prayer.

It was imperative that we not only see and understand, but that we follow with action.

I hope next year our numbers will grow, or that we might partner with other churches for a full overnight One Homeless Night event. For now, I am grateful that OIM, a place care for dearly, was able to bless my youth with a new perspective for their own homes, and to challenge them how they might invite inclusion and create spaces of safety and support for their neighbours.

 

Selina,

OIM Staff

If you’re interested in organizing a One Homless Night event with your youth group or school visit our One Homeless Night page for more information.

“Tessa’s Home” Episode 8: Merry Christmas and Thank you

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder from CHRI, click below. Miss previous episodes? Click “Recent Posts” on the right sidebar.

Please help us tell Tessa’s story through your social media connections, Facebook and Twitter. Comments welcome! #TessasHome

 

Tessa tells her story…

What I wish for Christmas is that people would come together and realize how much we need each other.

I want to thank OIM for being there when I needed them; for listening when nobody else would; for being exactly what I needed when I needed it – whether it like it was freezing cold and they had hot chocolate, sandwiches or socks; or when I was upset, taking the time to talk to me, and eventually helping shape me into somebody I want to be more, and to give me the opportunity to work alongside them; even seeing where I came from. Not a lot of people would let me do that. 

A lot of people, when they learn what happened to me and where I came from, just walk away.  I’ve had people completely cut ties with me over that.  They (OIM) don’t judge and they brought me back to God and I feel like if they weren’t there, I’d still be in a pretty dark place.  They brought life into my life and I’m thankful for that.

When I think of OIM, everything comes into my head: Moira, Jay, you, the office, the art group, the outreach – everything – especially the people.  They were there.

To the donors: no matter what you give, everything has been so helpful because without everybody’s efforts as a whole, we would not have what we have.

At art group we’re at 20 youth capacity. Even we are over capacity with 23.  I asked Moira, ‘Where does the money come from?’ She goes, ‘Jesus’.  What that translated into my mind, was it came from the people God motivated to donate, and so are doing the work of Jesus. When I thought about it, all these people coming together… without them, we probably wouldn’t be there.

I just wanna close in saying, ‘A great big thanks for all you do’.  Merry Christmas.

From Tessa’s Home in her little apartment/condo, from her home with the kids in the art group (and on their behalf), and from the Staff and Volunteers at OIM, from our home to yours,

Have a blessed and Merry Christmas!

Donate a special Christmas gift today to help us continue to reach out to young people, just like Tessa! Click ‘Donate Now’.

“Tessa’s Home” Episode 7: A Real Home for Christmas

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder from family radio CHRI, click below. Miss previous episodes? Click “Recent Posts” on the right sidebar.

Please help us tell Tessa’s story through your social media connections, Facebook and Twitter. Comments welcome! #TessasHome

 

Tessa tells her story…

What’s home like now?

 I went from being homeless, to getting into a rooming house, to an apartment.  Now I have a condo.  It’s not the biggest place in the world, it’s not the most fancy, but it’s clean, it’s safe and it’s in a good neighbourhood. I want to get a bigger place, like a townhouse with more space maybe a small yard for the boys… although sometimes I think I don’t want to move away from this place, like it’s small, but it’s the first place I’ve ever had that actually felt like home. 

I don’t go home and sit and worry, I go home, and I’m gonna take a bath and put my robe on and sit on the couch, and play with my kids.  Before when I’d go home, I’d have to eat, and to do that, I’d have to take out dishes, then I’d have to wash the dishes, ‘cause there’s cockroaches all over them, and now, I have a safe haven.

The only other place I feel safe other than home now, is art group.  I don’t have to worry while I’m there.  Now when I go, I take my shoes off, go get dinner, then someone comes along and lifts up my feet, walks through, and sits beside me, and we eat and talk and it feels like home – the way home should be, not like what I’ve had my whole life.  I didn’t get to this point until two months before I had my second child – I was so stressed then, in 2011 – I advertised to try to get a place, but  when the landlord found out I was on ODSP (Ontario Disability Service Plan) I was turned away – every time.

I finally found a place, a two bedroom with hardwood floors, where Tim and me and my two kids live today.  The landlord was willing to rent to me and even gave me a deal.  I couldn’t believe it!  I asked her, ‘Why?’  She said, ‘Because I was you. I was a young mom, and nobody would ever rent to me.  I saw your story, and it made me like, ‘I want to help you.’

All these little pieces that came together make this a home for me now.  Last night I was out, and like, ‘I want to go home, and I was really excited. I was looking forward to it.’ It’s safe and it’s my home.

If I can have my kids and we’re safe, and I don’t worry at night, that’s home.’

Thanks for helping us as we continue to reach out through Street Outreach, Drop in programs and our Passion 4 Youth art program.  Thank you too for your special Christmas donation to help us continue to make a difference in the lives of people on the streets.  Without your support, we could not continue.  Click ‘Donate Now’.

“Tessa’s Home” Episode 5: The Birth of Hope

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder on CHRI radio, click below. Miss previous episodes? Click “Recent Posts” on the right sidebar.

Please help us tell Tessa’s story through your social media connections, Facebook and Twitter. Comments welcome! #TessasHome

 

Tessa continues her story…

I got into housing right after, but my place wasn’t that great. It was my ‘place’, but it wasn’t my home – I’d been in and out of ‘places’ of several kinds, but it was never home.   It was between two drug dealers; one sold cocaine and guns, and the other marijuana and cocaine.  That wasn’t the place I wanted my kid, and I didn’t feel like I wanted to be there, so I gave up my son to CAS and I went back to the streets. It was the hardest thing I ever did.

I remember being really distraught, and I was downtown in front of McDonalds on Rideau, and Outreach was there.  Two outreach workers from OIM came by and I was drawing in a little sketch book.  “You like to do art?” “Yea, I love to do art.” “We just started up an art group two weeks ago.” “Oh really?”

In the weeks to come, the same outreach worker was always bugging me about coming, but I never did. I guess when somebody tells you about something, you get this picture inside your head of what it’s like, and it wasn’t like that at all. 

So one day he came by ( and I don’t even think it was an outreach night) and said, “You coming? It’s tonight.”  I said, “OK, fine! I’ll come.” And he came and met me and I went.

I loved it.

After they introduced me to what it was, and told me about the mentoring and said they could help me with goals that I had, I thought maybe this could be helpful (and in my mind, thinking, ‘for now’). 

So like, I’ve been going there for three years, and I have missed like, four nights.

Getting this positive reaction for something I did, was not something I often got… Going through school, I had this art teacher that told me that I just didn’t have it (to be an artist). 

In the Passion 4 Youth art group I made goals to do stuff, and it eventually led me to getting my son back.  I set goals with Malley (my mentor) and she would ask me, ‘What are we working on this week?’ and ‘How’s the fight for your son going?’ and ‘What are your goals towards that?’  After working on that for a pretty long time, I got my son back, and brought him to the art room.  Everyone was really happy about that.

As Christmas approaches, please consider making a donation to help us with our Street Outreach Program.  Please click ‘Donate Now’.  Merry Christmas and thank you.

 

“Tessa’s Home” Episode 4: Disappointments on the Way Home

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder from CHRI, click below.

Miss previous episodes? Click “Recent Posts” on the right sidebar.

Please help us tell Tessa’s story through your social media connections, Facebook and Twitter. Comments welcome! #TessasHome

 

Tessa’s continues her story….

After my dad died, my head was really messed up because of it and I ended up hitchhiking across Canada. 

 At this time, I was 17 years old. Me and a friend made it all the way to Calgary Alberta in 5 days. I spent a few months out there, and eventually made my way back home to Ottawa.

From Calgary, I had had a pen-pal, who I was corresponding with regularly, who lived in Ottawa, and when I arrived back, we decided to meet. When I did, we were inseparable, and I had found, who I thought was my soul mate.

For about a year we were inseparable, (so I was 18 here) and when I found out I was expecting I went to his work (he worked at a coffee shop).  I waited my turn in the line, went up and said, “I would like to a medium ice cap and a side of ‘I am expecting your baby’”.  He looked at me in disbelief and we arranged to meet.

After that weekend I went to see him at his place, and he was gone.  He decided to move somewhere far away and cut off all contact with me.

Being very young and headstrong, my fear was soon overcome by excitement, and joy, but I remained homeless and sleeping outside until I was 8 months pregnant, and to this day, I haven’t heard from my first son’s father.

My beautiful little boy is now four years old, and I also have a one year old, both boys, and anyone with children knows how wonderful and amazing and life changing they truly are.

Please consider a Special Christmas Donation to help us continue our outreach program to people on the streets.  Your donation will help us help others, giving hope and a future where there is none today. Click “Donate Now”.   Thanks for your support!

“Tessa’s Home” Episode 3: Life on the Streets, Shelters and Drugs

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder from CHRI, click below.

 

Miss previous episodes? Click “Recent Posts” on the right sidebar.

Please help us tell Tessa’s story through your social media, Facebook and Twitter. Comments welcome! #TessasHome

 

Here is Tessa’s story in her own words….

One guy took me in (and also molested me), let me stay at his house actually burned my hair with Axe hair spray and a lighter.  That’s when I first started wearing a Mohawk.

From there I went to a shelter and then I got a ride to Ottawa.  I stayed at one shelter for maybe a month before I learned that if you lived outside, you didn’t have to listen to anybody. I didn’t like the rules they had there (at the shelter).

Soon after I started living outside, I was smoking and using marijuana.  After living on the streets for about a month, someone asked me if I had ever tried Ecstasy. I lied and said, “Yea, totally.” I started doing hard drugs more and more.  I was addicted to ‘uppers’ or Ecstasy (most of the time) or anything that made me feel happy. It took away the pain.

I was abused all my life. From the outside we lived like a happy family, but behind closed doors it was really bad.  I could never remember a time when I was as happy as I was when I was on that drug: it was like all of your bad feelings go away, and I was doing it every single day for a while.

After about 3 years of sleeping outside, couch surfing, and staying at shelters, but mostly on the street, I went for a visit to my “family”. I’d like to say ‘home’ but it never really was – not at all.  The reason I say it like this, “Family”, is because to this day, I consider the bonds I made with other youth who experienced the pain and heartache as I did, to be stronger, than those of my own blood. While visiting, I ended up seeing my lifelong abuser for the last time, and it was not a happy memory. I remember the very last words he said to me, were “take those stupid things out of your face, and grow some hair, then I’ll respect ya you freak!” I simply replied, “Love you too Dad,” and he drove away. Two days later, at around 3 a.m., the police came to my mother’s door to tell us my father had been in an accident, and did not survive.

I didn’t feel sad that he was gone. I tried to act sad, like everybody, but I didn’t.  I went in and finally was able to say everything that I wanted to say to him. The only thing I’m sad about today, is that I never had a chance to confront him to let him know how I felt as an adult.

OIM does not receive on-going government funding to operate any of our programs, but instead we rely on the goodwill donations of concerned citizens and business owners in the National Capital Region and beyond.  We need your help to continue our outreach program on the streets.  Please make a donation today. Click “Donate Now”.  Thanks for your support!

A Special heARTfelt Thursday: Sneak Peek!

P4Y Art Show Collage 2013-11-191

Texture, colour, pattern, meaning…

OIM is excited to extend an invitation to friends and community members for the up-coming Passion 4 Youth art show.

The Passion 4 Youth artists have been hard at work this Fall to create pieces that explore the idea of violence and social structures. Each artist has created an art piece that represents a major structure in our city that has had a positive or negative influence on their lives. From the perspective of a street-engaged youth, we will be looking at the Children’s Aid Society, the criminal justice system, financial institutions, immigration, the media, health facilities, and many more.

We encourage you to come out. Doors will be open 7:00pm-9:00pm, and there will be a suggested $5 donation at the door. Light refreshments provided.

Tabaret Hall, Room 112, uOttawa–550 Cumberland St.